Why do we remember “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” less than “We’ll always have Paris”? Do we remember it less? This rhetorical question, of course, comes from AFI’s list of 100 Most Memorable Movie Quotes. It’s also a question in the minds of every screenwriter desperately trying to create something memorable. The next “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid” or “You talkin’ to me?” So how do we craft a line that gets repeated by everyone and buried into the collective hippocampus.
Now, science has an answer. Or they’re at least groping toward one.
According to Technology Review, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Miziland and researchers at Cornell University analyzed 1,000 lines listed by IMDB to be memorable and compared them to lines of similar length, spoken by the same character at or around the same time in the movie to figure out what made them stick. The next step? Asking people who haven’t seen movies to figure out which line they’re faced with is the one that’s remembered. You can even do it to see for yourself. The results are interesting, but they leave out a crucial element: the context of the movie. Studying syntax and syllables is one thing, but you can’t beat “I know” as a response to “I love you.” You also can’t beat hundreds of millions of people seeing a movie to spread a line of dialog around.